When Do I Start?

Sure we want our kids to be able to make good decisions. But how do we get from point A to point B? The simple answer is – slowly but methodically. The process begins early, as early as when our kids begin to assert themselves.

In the podcast Lori talked about how children between 4 and 10 often find it hard to make decisions. So, here are some ideas to slowly help young children make decisions.

  • Offer a choice only when there is a choice. Don’t say “what do you want for supper?” when you’ve already got the tater tot casserole in the oven.
  • Offer just a few choices. Too many choices are overwhelming and confusing. Ask, “do you want an apple or string cheese for a snack”” rather than “what do you want to wear today?” and then throw open the closet door.
  • Offer safe choices. Young children don’t have the knowledge or experience to always know what is right or wrong, what is safe or unsafe. An example of a safe choice is, “do you want to hold Daddy’s hand or Mommy’s hand while we cross the street?” Asking “do you want to hold my hand to cross the street?” is not a safe choice to give a young child.
  • Offer your support. As a parent you can help your child think things through before she or he makes a decision. Chelsey is at the store with you and wants to send $5.00 she has been saving. But she can’t decide whether to buy a dress for her doll or some sparkly markers. Talk to Chelsey about what she will use the most, how long the items might last, etc. You are teaching her how to think things through and each time the decision will come a bit easier.

What have you done to help a young child begin to make decisions?

Donna Donald

Donna Donald is a Human Sciences specialist for Iowa State University Extension and Outreach who has spent her career working with families across the lifespan. She believes families are defined by function as well as form. Donna entered parenthood as a stepmother to three daughters and loves being a grandmother of seven young adults.

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4 thoughts on “When Do I Start?

  1. I am a mother of three: a boy age 6, and two girls ages 7 and 9. I am also a School Psychologist with 13 years experience, and currently a homemaker, stay at home mom, and a woman in transition. I find sometimes that allowing children to make their own decisions or to problem solve is easier said then done. I remember when my oldest child was born, I tried to follow the book and best practices. At age 1 or two, I provided 2 choices with toys and/or books with lots of communication building and new vocabulary. Later, choices were provided around food again just two choices that would give me the outcome I desired. When child two came along, I did the same very easily. And in the beginning with child 3, the little boy it worked well too!

    Fast forward and the oldest became 5, the middle age 3, and the youngest two. Then it became a bit more complicated because they began to develop their own tastes in foods and not everyone wants the same thing, and their is one of me and three of them. Still forced choice is good, meaning 2 or 3 choices, but no more because 3 siblings and one parent can become exhausting at times with too many choices. Restaurant menus….too many choices, toy store….too many choices….cartoon channels ….too many choices. Public Library too many choices, but GREAT choices. So money and time choices, and food choices I limit to two or three. Library, I am a sucker for…..as many as you can carry, three weeks in a bin in my house marked library…I will pay the $5.30 cent fine if need be…after all it’s for a good cause!

    Fast forward to this year ages 6, 7, and nine more tastes developing, going in different directions…different levels of development and maturity. Need more balance, healthy choices, a little more discussion, rules and time limits on electronics. Events and activities to be earned, choices as to how many enrichment activities balanced against academics, and much needed sleep for brain development. Still too many choices. Girls On The Run or Tennis, Clarinet or Violin, Peanut Butter and Jelly or Ham, Turkey, and Cheese? Library today or tomorrow….how many books….as many as you can carry….after all, I am a sucker for books!

  2. I find offering choices to choose between to be the best method. I like your final option of offering support and helping them think things through. My oldest has just turned 5 so it is probably about time I started doing that.

  3. Laura – you are right on the mark when you say, “easier said then done.” That is true about much of parenting. And I smiled as I read through the changes as the children grow up. You mention the types of choices, number of choices, and relationship to different levels of development and maturity. Many years ahead with many choices but you set a foundation early in their lives for teaching decision making and problem solving.
    Donna Donald

  4. Ellie – remember you are helping your children learn skills for a lifetime. Start small, start with simple choices. Then as your children grow, they will be ready to handle more complex choices.
    Donna donald

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